January 4, 2011

Lucente ZBA hearing cancelled

Back on December 7th, the Zoning Board of Appeals deferred action on the Lucente Varna II appeal until January 11th, to address some concerns about the appeal and especially its environmental review.

That's now apparently cancelled, because of a procedural issue I don't completely understand. Dan Kwasnowski, Director of Planning, wrote me that:

They were appealing a Zoning Permit denial. The problem is that since they were applying for a Special Use Permit, necessary for a PUD application, a Zoning Permit was not necessary.

He said he might issue a formal written determination, which would probably help make clear what's happening here. The application hasn't been withdrawn, but I don't know where its next steps will lead.

In any event, if you were planning to attend the ZBA meeting the night of the 11th, you now have a free evening. Perhaps you might want to come to the zoning piece of the Town Board's Agenda meeting on Wednesday the 12th instead? The Agenda meeting starts at 7:00pm, with zoning discussion starting around 8:00pm (sometimes a bit earlier).

Posted by simon at 12:25 PM Comment

Dryden's version of the Civil War (zoning)

No, no - I'm not talking about the current conversations about zoning. Retiring Dryden Zoning Officer Henry Slater tells a rich story of the recent Dryden past in the December Town Newsletter, (1.4MB PDF) including this discussion of zoning:

I first became involved with the Town of Dryden in 1984 when I was appointed to the Town Planning Board. In 1984, Zoning & Planning was a fairly new concept and was an issue that seemed divided in public opinion. The residents seemed either in total support or in total nonsupport, and their numbers were pretty evenly divided.

The initial land use effort began during the mid 1960's concluding with the adoption of the initial Dryden Town Zoning Ordinance in September 1969.

Since many of the people who were involved in the battle of zoning (their words not mine) were still involved in Town government during the mid 1980's. I was privy to many of their accounts of that struggle. The Town had been under pressure to consider Town wide zoning. As I indicated above, there were only two opinions, yes and just say no to zoning. Given the situation, sometime during the mid 1960's the then Town Board appointed a commission to consider the zoning question. The commission was made up from representatives of both sides of the issue.

I am told there were some very heated discussions.

The Town Board, considering the seriousness of the issue, determined some professional assistance was needed. Ultimately grant funds were appropriated to retain the services of an area land use management service, Egner and Niederkorn Associates.

By 1968, the first step in the zoning question was completed (preparation of a Comprehensive Land Use Plan) and Dryden's version of the Civil War was well underway. The plan considered each of the Villages of Dryden and Freeville as well as the Town. Representatives of all (3) communities participated.

I was further told the issue of zoning was so controversial, that some parts of the Town went as far as to ask to be annexed to adjacent Towns depending on zoning status of the adjacent communities.

In general it was so intense that friendships and family relations were strained to the breaking point (Civil War).

Ultimately in September 1969, the Town of Dryden began the era of zoning. The planning commission continued, relationships were patched, and life continued.

The 1968 Comprehensive Plan (The Dryden General Plan) was the basic tool utilized to create the zoning ordinance; however, the 1968 Comprehensive Plan was not ever actually adopted as an official Town document.

Interestingly, to the best of my knowledge, the Town did not have an adopted Comprehensive Plan until December 2005 when the current version was adopted. The 2005 Plan has been utilized to develop a draft replacement zoning ordinance which has reached the Town Board for adoption consideration. This version has not reached Civil War status.

Let's hope we can avoid "Civil War status". There's a lot more in the newsletter, from Henry and others. I'm especially intrigued by Harry Weldon's piece on the Simon Hurd barn, which he's working on a miniature version of.

Posted by simon at 5:22 PM Comment

January 5, 2011

Dryden leads Tompkins with home birth

The Ithaca Journal reports that the first birth in Tompkins County for 2011 took place not in a hospital, but in a home on Ellis Hollow Creek Road.

The Tompkins County Legislature took a look at truck regulation related to gas drilling on Tuesday, scheduling a February 1st public hearing.

The League of Women Voters will be having a presentation on New York State's urgent need for redistricting reform on January 26th in Ithaca. Urgent? Did I just say urgent? Sorry, that was an understatement. I've posted on this before, and you can see a collection of information I put together in 2007.

Posted by simon at 4:50 AM Comment

Dryden Solutions to talk energy efficiency and service clubs

Dryden has many excellent organizations that do a lot of different things. Might they add energy efficiency to their list?

Energy Efficiency! Energy Efficiency! Energy Efficiency!

Following up on the very successful Lighten Up Dryden campaign in October, we are joining the effort to encourage people in the town to save money by saving energy.

At the Tuesday January 11th Dryden Solutions gathering we will focus on how organizations in Dryden, such as service clubs, congregations, and other organizations can help their members retrofit their homes to use significantly less energy and save significant amounts of money.

Do you belong to a club or organization, any group -formal or informal? Might your members enjoy these kinds of savings? Please consider joining us to bring this information back to your friends.

Members of our Dryden service clubs and other organizations will be talking with local energy educators about how the clubs might help encourage more Dryden residents to take advantage of available energy efficiency programs.

Come next Tuesday, January 11, to the Dryden Community Center Cafe at 5:30 for about an hour to see how we might work together. People from Rotary, Sertoma, Kiwanis, and Masons and others have been invited. This should be a good opportunity for people to talk with each other about how to help their members.

Posted by simon at 12:04 PM Comment

January 8, 2011

Poet's Landing approved by Planning Board

The Village of Dryden Planning Board unanimously approved a site plan for ten apartment buildings near Dryden High School, "Poet's Landing", including both senior housing and low-income housing. There's a lot to address in the approval:

To mitigate safety concerns, the project will include a cross walk, signs and flashing yellow lights at the intersection between the high school and the development, and a large holding pond to keep runoff from contributing to flooding, said Gene German, chairman of the board.

In addition, the developers, Rochester-based Conifer Realty, will have other conditions to fulfill, including an additional, independent stormwater study to determine if the project will increase the risk that nearby Egypt Creek could flood during storms.

Mayor Randy Sterling:

supported the board's decision and that the new development will provide the area with working-class housing.

"We have no new developments right now," he said. "Dryden needs this."

Residents at the meeting weren't so positive, and comments on the article are uniformly negative, with one commenter suggesting a departure from Dryden. In blogs, Dryden Daily KAZ worries that the blinking yellow light really isn't enough of a traffic solution.

The County Industrial Development Agency is considering incentives for low-income and energy-efficient housing.

The regional job outlook is a bit brighter than it was.

Finally, Don Decker of Freeville has an op-ed about culling deer herds, wanting the numbers reduced but preferring hunting to coyotes.

I tend to think the coyotes have an important role to play in getting our local ecosystem back to balance - despite likely having lost a pair of sweet cats and a number of ducks to them - but also think hunting is very necessary. Decker worries about coyote "havoc on ground-nesters, which includes birds, rabbits and even their own species." I worry more about deer demolishing all the undergrowth that those creatures need to support themselves. We definitely need to reduce the deer population, and I don't think hitting them with cars is the way to do it.

Posted by simon at 6:48 AM Comment

Violent rhetoric

All of sudden I'm flashing back to this cheerless quote from the July zoning meeting:

"I'm not a developer, and I think our freedoms are being infringed upon here, okay? You guys want to have control, control, control, go someplace else and live, all right? This is the United States. I understand why we've gotta have some sort of coordination, but I'm sorry - don't tell me what I'm going to do with my land. [...applause...] And if you come to tell me that you're going to do something to me, you're going to find a body laying at the end of my driveway."

After today's tragedy, do you think that maybe we can drop the violent rhetoric for a while?

Posted by simon at 3:49 PM Comment

January 10, 2011

TC3 older students scholarship available

The Ithaca Journal reports that applications are due March 1st for a $5000 scholarship at TC3 available to students over 25 years old.

Need something to do in the cold? The Varna United Methodist Church can warm you up Tuesday at their free spaghetti dinner. If you prefer to take advantage of the cold, the Cayuga Nordic Ski Club will be holding races at Hammond Hill this Saturday the 15th.

TCAT broke past ridership records with a 6.3% increase in riders last year.

Just outside of Dryden, there will be another meeting about the contentious Hanshaw Road reconstruction on the19th.

At the state level, juvenile justice restructuring could affect institutions in and around Dryden, and the discussion of a property tax cap continues.

Posted by simon at 7:43 AM Comment

January 12, 2011

Dryden school budget; gas drilling conversations

I think most folks figured that this would be an even worse year than last for school budgets, and sure enough, Dryden is looking at a difficult year: "The district will have to cut more than $1.8 million [from $32.9 million] if likely scenarios come to pass."

There's a piece on the Dryden Listening Project's conversations with Dryden residents about hydrofracking. The 40-page "report will be available Monday at the Dryden Town Hall, Southworth Library, the Dryden Community Center Café, The History Center in Tompkins County and Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension, and can be requested via e-mail at drydenlisteningproject@gmail.com."

Dr. Wiliam Klepack of Dryden calls for the ban on fracking to continue, citing endocrine disruptors as a particular threat.

A Freeville resident and State Trooper faces a six-month revocation of his license after pleading guilty to DWI in an August incident in Groton.

In brighter news, Cathy Wakeman reports on upcoming events at the Dryden Community Center Cafe, Varna Community Center, and 4-H Acres. Music, chowder, and winter forestry. She also writes about the Dryden Listening Project, and notes that there will be a presentation on it at next week's Dryden Town Board meeting.

Speaking of which, the Town Board's Agenda and zoning meeting is tonight at Town Hall at 7:00 7:30pm, with zoning conversation usually picking up around 8:00 8:30pm.

Posted by simon at 12:23 PM Comment

Town Board meeting tonight at 7:30, not 7:00

I just learned (thanks to Jason Leifer) that tonight's Dryden Town Board Agenda and Zoning meeting will start at 7:30pm, not 7:00pm. Here's the agenda:

  1. Call Meeting to Order
  2. Roll Call
  3. Discussion Items
    1. Role of ZBA (and PB) Alternates
    2. Oakbrook Drive Right-of-way purchase
    3. Noise Ordinance
  4. 1-19-11 Agenda Items
    1. Solat Public Hearing
    2. Dryden Listening Project Presentation
    3. 2011 Equipment Purchase & Sale Resolution.doc
    4. CRWD MPR authorization
  5. Abstract approval
  6. Zoning Discussion
    1. Mining
    2. Density requirements for the hamlet zone and the mixed use commercial zone
    3. Density and Frontage Formulas
    4. OTNDO Review
    5. Large Scale Retail Overlay (LSRO)
    6. Planned Unit Development
    7. Timeline for remaining sections

I have a really hard time imagining the board getting through all of those zoning items, but you never know....

Posted by simon at 4:07 PM Comment

January 14, 2011

Crash on 34B claims driver's life

34B has a lot less traffic than 13, but always seems pretty dangerous to me. Passing over the double-yellow seems common, and even though much of it is straight, the line of sight isn't always ideal.

It's not clear what happened in a crash Tuesday afternoon, but a Groton woman died after her car crossed into the opposite lane. Freeville and Dryden firefighters responded, as did Bangs' Ambulance, state troopers, and sheriff's deputies.

(An earlier report from the Journal had called the crash location Lansing, but comments indicate this happened near the Plantsmen Nursery in Dryden.)

Posted by simon at 5:04 PM Comment

January 17, 2011

Hamlet populations, 1895

I was very happy this weekend to find David Marcham's amazing Ups & Downs of a Rural Life: Elmira, Cortland & Northern RR 1867 to 1967 and On. It chronicles the history of the railroad line that connected Elmira to Canastota, crossing through Varna, Etna, Freeville, and McLean.

There's all kinds of great stuff there - history, stories, maps, a list of sidings - but one small detail on page 140 caught my eye - populations of stops from 1895. The largest city on the line was industrial giant Elmira, at 30,893. Ithaca was next at 11,079, and Cortland had 8,590. These populations "do not include surrounding rural areas."

Within the Town of Dryden, we can see that Varna had 208 residents, Etna 377, Freeville 312, and McLean (largely in Groton) 453.

I did some complex calculating a few years ago to estimate the populations of Varna, Etna and the Dryden part of McLean using 2000 census data.

'Downtown Varna' had 679, an increase of 471. That might seem like a huge increase, but over more than a century it's not a tremendous rate of growth except perhaps compared with Etna. I found 'downtown Etna' as defined by the Comprehensive plan to have 379 residents, an increase of only 2. Freeville had 505, an increase of 193.

The Dryden part of McLean had 324 residents, fewer than the complete McLean of 1895, but a most of McLean, especially the older parts of McLean, is in Groton I don't think it's comparable.

Posted by simon at 6:59 AM Comment

Lock Up in Dryden

The Ithaca Journal reports that Village of Dryden police are asking residents to watch out following a series of break-ins to residences and cars. All have been through unlocked doors, apparently.

We talked a bit about this Thursday night at the Village of Dryden discussion sponsored by the Dryden Democrats (and thanks to the Republican Trustees and Mayor who also came). More on that in a bit!

Posted by simon at 7:40 AM Comment

January 18, 2011

PrimitivePursuits Earth Mentoring

I'm pretty sure Primitive Pursuits has had events at 4-H Acres in Dryden, and I think they do more here as well. I just stumbled on their blog, which is definitely worth a visit.

Posted by simon at 1:36 PM Comment

January 19, 2011

One plausible scenario for excessive development along 13

I've not had much luck, apparently, convincing the Town Board that the proposed "let's allow 10 units/acre in any commercial zone in Dryden with water and sewer and string those zones along 13" is a bad idea. My guess is that's they're counting on the cost of water and sewer improvements to keep the possible congestion along Route 13 to a minimum, but I'm not convinced that's wise.

How hard is it to imagine water and sewer extending along Route 13? Unfortunately, it's not very hard despite the distances and the costs. I usually confine my fictional visions of the local future to Upstate 2050, but here's one fictional but I think plausible scenario for those commercial zones coming to dense residential life within the next twenty years. (No, it's not a vision I want to see come to pass, but it's definitely within the realm of possibility.)


The economy finally recovered in 2013 and began growing again rapidly. Tompkins County did particularly well, thanks to successful nanotechnology projects developed at Cornell University - whose manufacturing stayed local because the research component remained central to their success.

The discovery of large quantities of natural gas in shale formations in the United States helped buffer increasing oil costs as the nation shifted from gasoline-based cars to electrically-based cars. While resistance to the natural gas extraction technologies - hydrofracking and its descendants - continued, the availability of gas and the lack of alternatives drove energy policy to be ever-friendlier to gas drillers.

Dryden's last legal defenses fell in 2016, overruled by a Department of Energy "Drilling Designation" much like its earlier "National Corridor Designation". Regulation of drilling was to be exclusively federal, with state and municipal regulation - even the aquifer protection that had served Dryden well - swept away.

Though exploration near Dryden Lake proved disappointing, an initial set of wells just south of Route 13 produced promising results in multiple layers. Drilling and production began on four parcels between the Village of Dryden and Yellow Barn Road and another to the north on Johnson Road.

To minimize exposure to the Town's road use laws, they bought parcels of land along Route 13 and Johnson Road to use as staging areas, creating "contractor's yards" that the Town approved as a minimization of long-term impact despite the appearance issues. Where possible, trucks rumbled over privately-owned connection corridors rather than crossing highways or taking roads, and a traffic light was installed at Route 13 and Johnson Roads to keep cars and trucks out of each other's way. A manned tower allowed direct management of the intersection, much like a railyard, and residents breathed a sigh of relief when traffic flow on Route 13 stayed smooth.

Problems began in early 2021, when the Yellow Barn Water System reported a variety of problems with its well water. The volume of available water declined, and new pollutants appeared in the water. As the privately-owned system was now supporting 156 houses, this quickly became a major political problem. Hydrofracking opponents pointed to recent drilling work off Ferguson Road, while the drilling companies suggested that a recent stronger-than-usual earthquake in the Adirondacks - 6.2 on the Richter scale - might have shifted underground geology.

Feeding the Yellow Barn Water System by truck kept it going for a year while negotiations between the Town, the Village of Dryden, the drilling companies, and the Department of Energy ground on. In mid-2022 the Town broke ground on the Yellow Barn water and sewer districts, connecting the area to the Village of Dryden using pipes along Route 13 through land largely owned by the drillers. The drilling companies paid one-third of the construction cost, as did the federal government. The gas companies had insisted on the sewer district, as it gave them a convenient outlet for their excess water, and allowed them to build convenient housing for their workers.

(The Town considered connecting the new water system to the Bolton Point-based systems further west, given concerns about Cayuga Lake water, but would have had to finance that itself.)

When drilling in the area concluded in 2025, the army of trucks dwindled, and the traffic tower was dismantled. 13dev, Inc., took over the real estate holdings of the drilling companies, and in 2026 applied for building permits to construct 800 townhouse units around the Yellow Barn / Route 13 / Johnson Road intersection. Citing the existing infrastructure, the commercial zoning, the demand for new housing because of Cornell's continuing expansion, and the existence of the traffic light, the Town granted the permits quickly.

In 2028, posters began appearing around Dryden displaying a map from the 1968 General Plan showing a Route 13 bypass. Route 13 between the Village of Dryden and Ringwood Road had become a traffic jam during rush hour and a safety hazard in its off-hours. New traffic lights at Irish Settlement and 13, Ringwood and 13, and along Ferguson Road weren't doing enough to smooth traffic flow. 60 years later, the Route 13 bypass suddenly looked like a great idea to a lot of people trying to get through Dryden.

In 2030, Etna, Freeville, Malloryville, and McLean residents geared up for a new battle, to fight the bypass proposed by the New York State Department of Transportation.

Plausible? I suspect yes, and worse, suspect that it might not take twenty years to get there.

Posted by simon at 5:02 PM Comment

January 20, 2011

George Agency resident escapes to Syracuse

The Journal seems filled with crime stories that leave me wondering "I can't figure out how they thought they'd get away with that."

The more dramatic one is a fifteen year old's flight Monday from Freeville to Syracuse. He appears to have left the George Agency, stolen a bicycle on Fall Creek Road, used that to get to Gulf Hill Road, stole a car, and took that to Syracuse. Syracuse police found the car and the resident, and arrested him. He's back at the George Agency for the time being.

Stealing checks, forging them, and depositing them in your account, though, probably gives the police better evidence than leaving a driver's license at the scene of a theft.

Posted by simon at 7:22 AM Comment

Likes (and dislikes) about Dryden

The Dryden Listening Project presented its findings to the Town Board last night, reporting on the 122 interviews they conducted across the town earlier this year. Most of the conversation was about residents' views of hydrofracking, but they opened their interviews with two simple questions. "What do you like about living here?" and "What do you dislike about living here?" They summarized keywords from those responses in a pair of word graphs:

Likes about Dryden
Liking Dryden (Click for larger image)

Dislikes about Dryden
Disliking Dryden (Click for larger image)

The Town will be putting the Listening Project's full (48-page) report on their site, and I'll link to it when it's up. For now, I thought this was a good place to start.

Posted by simon at 8:01 AM Comment

Tell the Governor

Dryden Daily KAZ reports on how to suggest state mandates to cut to newly elected Governor Cuomo. The list she starts with focuses on schools, but I think counties doubtless have their own long list. Towns and villages likely have some too.

Posted by simon at 4:25 PM Comment

Evaluating Zoning

For the last few years, I've watched officials and residents evaluating various drafts of the zoning law and listened to them talk about it. There seem to be two different tracks for evaluating it: a personal track and a community track.

On the personal track, people (myself included) walk up to the maps and find where they live, then look up what the rules are for them. Then they look around their immediate neighborhood - what can my neighbors do? I've also heard from a lot of people who've checked out places they care about. Some were natural areas, some were roads they drive frequently, and others were looking to places they hope something will develop.

I expect that the personal track is going to drive a lot of the map-drawing and some of the use table cases. There will likely be some conflict over where those lines and Xs go, but much of the new zoning tries to echo the old zoning. Well, rationalizing it a bit, but I suspect most Dryden residents won't notice an immediate change when (if) the new zoning is approved.

The community track is a lot more difficult, though it's what at least theoretically drives the Planning Board and Town Board decision-making process. How do all of these pieces add up for the Town?

The challenge there is different. It's less about specific locations - though they certainly can matter - and more about how the zoning will affect an uncertain future. The importance of zoning varies by the growth rate of the next twenty years:

Little change

If nothing much new gets built, the zoning doesn't matter all that much. Existing uses continue, but zoning really only affects changes in use.

Lots of Growth

If there is lots of growth, zoning becomes critical for directing it to places the Town considers most appropriate and limiting its impact in places the Town considers it least appropriate. This is probably the scenario where the details of the zoning create the most friction, as people start having more visions of what they have being worth a lot of money and only the town zoning standing in their way. It's also the scenario where residents see the changes that were once just lines on a map come to pass, and have to deal with the consequences.


We are a part of Upstate New York, right? Even though Tompkins County has generally done well, remaining at least stable while much of this region shrinks, it doesn't have to stay that way. While it's not generally considered polite, it's not hard to develop scenarios in which significant numbers of people leave Dryden. In this case zoning matters less for its restrictions on growth and more for its restrictions on adaptive reuse.

The story I told yesterday of rapid growth is one approach to making these kinds of community questions concrete. I'll be telling a few more variations over the next couple of months.

Posted by simon at 9:06 PM Comment

January 21, 2011

1885 Schedule, Elmira, Cortland, & Northern

Here's the 1885 schedule for the railroad that ran through the southwesternmost corner of Dryden to the East Ithaca station, then from there through Freeville to McLean and Cortland.

To Cortland & CanastotaDistance from
StationsTo Elmira
Freight & AccomSunday ExpressSyracuse ExpressAlbany & Utica Ex.Elmira ExpressAlbany & Utica Ex.Sunday ExpressFreight & Accom
3.009.504.258.5350.55[East] ITHACA9.433.366.2810.39

The freights took about two and a half hours to cover that distance of 17.52 miles. Express trains took around 45 minutes, more than three times faster. I'm guessing that "Snyder's" is Mrs. C. Snyder's house at the modern intersection of 366 and Monkey Run, as shown in this 1898 map from the Goodrich Centennial History of Dryden.

This comes, once again, from David Marcham's excellent Ups & Downs of a Rural Life: Elmira, Cortland & Northern RR 1867 to 1967 and On. He reprints a (slightly fuzzy - I hope I got it right) schedule on page 20.

Posted by simon at 5:16 PM Comment

January 22, 2011

Dryden man indicted for child pornography

The Ithaca Journal reports that the Tompkins County grand jury has indicted a 45-year-old Dryden man with possessing and promoting child pornography.

There's an article about property taxes going up across the county that never actually gets to Dryden, so it's hard to know how it compares. There's a pretty good primer on property tax issues that starts to explain how this works, but I fear that a thorough primer might require more article space than an entire issue of the Journal contains.

The county is moving toward action-only minutes, with the discussion recorded as less official notes. As someone who's been a less-than-perfect secretary a few times, I see the appeal - but only consider it acceptable if there are also recordings available. Since the county legislature broadcasts its meetings, I don't think that's a problem. Hopefully the notes will provide enough context for people reading and searching, as it's far faster to read (and especially search) through even detailed text minutes than to watch the whole meeting.

It sounds like the last round of county votes was pretty peaceful, though - all unopposed.

Posted by simon at 7:18 AM Comment

Kids' ski day on Mount Pleasant Sunday

All this cold and snow has its uses. The Cayuga Nordic Ski Club will be having a Kids Ski Session tomorrow afternoon from 2:00pm to 4:00pm. It'll be up at Swann Cycles, 226 Mount Pleasant Road, high above Varna. (This is cross-country skiing, not downhill, despite being at the top of a hill.)

Families are asked to arrive no later than 1:45 p.m. The session will be activity-focused for kids of all abilities and ages. Limited cross -country ski equipment will be available to borrow.

Parents should plan to stay with their children. I know, I know, it's going to be really cold, so bundle up and make sure the kids are bundled up too. One of these days I need to try cross-country skiing again, but the one time I went (1985?) it was about this cold and still a lot of fun.

Posted by simon at 7:27 AM Comment

January 24, 2011

Kidnapped to Mineah Road

A 21-year-old Mineah Road resident was charged with kidnapping Saturday for allegedly abducting an 18-year-old at gunpoint.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation seems to be moving closer to allowing gas drilling on state forest land. (There's an earlier release of the same story with more coments too.

And yes, it's really cold. Stay warm!

Posted by simon at 8:28 AM Comment

January 28, 2011

Route 13 needs and dangers

I have about fifteen Living in Dryden stories bouncing in my head wanting to come out, and no time to write them. For now, here's a quick catch-up with the Ithaca Journal.

Can you help a veteran? The new VA outpatient facility needs drivers to help patients get to their office on Routes 13 and 366.

Route 13 continues to be a dangerous place, as an accident yesterday at Lower Creek sent three people to the hospital.

Cathy Wakeman reports on upcoming Dryden happenings and good news in her Dryden Town Talk column.

Tompkins County is contemplating road protection measures to deal with the massive influx of trucks hydrofracking could bring. Lost at the bottom of that article is news that Southworth Library cards now work at the Tompkins County Public Library in Ithaca and vice versa, as well as at the Groton, Lansing, Trumansburg and Newfield libraries.

It's not in Dryden, but the Town of Ithaca faces challenges in planning and applications on West Hill that echo Varna but on a larger scale.

Finally, I'm very pleased to see the League of Women Voters pushing for redistricting models cleaner than the current "as gerrymandered as we can get away with" approach that's been business as usual in Albany.

Posted by simon at 7:50 AM Comment

Varna Planning - current status

Update: new version of this story available.

At both the Town Board and Planning Board meetings this week, Planning Director Dan Kwasnowski expressed concerns about the possible impact of large-scale development (likely Stephen Lucente's Varna II) on the Varna Master Plan work that's just getting underway. He definitely would prefer to avoid a moratorium on development, but mentioned it as a possibility if needed.

In the meantime, the Town Board is moving forward with zoning, just removing the density table from the hamlet section to leave a temporary maximum of one unit per 10,000 square feet, or 4.35 units per acre. They plan to amend the zoning when the plan is complete.

The Master Plan seems to be getting underway - the Planning Board appointed Jim Skaley, Melissa Amodei, and Mike Richardson as community representatives, and it still sounds like they're aiming to finish by mid-summer, producing zoning language, comprehensive plan language, and maybe more. The primary hitch in that story remains Cornell, whose commitment to funding part of it remains uncertain.

Personally, I'm glad to see the Town paying attention to Varna planning with something more than the very vague current zoning. At the same time, I'm deeply skeptical that reopening the Comprehensive Plan is actually going to lead to results that residents - present or future - actually want. So far, the zoning process seems to have departed most severely from the Comprehensive Plan on Varna and on Route 13, and I can't say I've seen those deviations as any kind of improvement.

We'll see.

Posted by simon at 7:27 PM Comment

January 29, 2011

Car stolen at Kinney Drug

I noted earlier that Dryden police warned of thefts from cars, but yesterday someone apparently went further and stole a whole vehicle "containing pharmaceutical and medical items".

In other news, the Tompkins County Council of Governments opposes the property tax cap. In the long run, I'd love to see a shift away from property taxes, but in the short run it's hard to square the math against New York State's incredible fondness for unfunded mandates.

Posted by simon at 6:24 AM Comment

"He doesn't take care of his properties"

and that's a good thing, or so I keep hearing from too many people whose judgement I didn't think was otherwise broken.

If you talk with residents of Varna or just people who drive through regularly, the decaying appearance of a lot of Varna buildings is troubling. Yes, the houses are close to the road, but that's maybe even all the more reason to at least make them look nice. Part of the challenge is simply that these are old buildings, and their proximity to the road limits the likely return on investment. Another huge part of the challenge, though, is that many of these are owned by landlords who only seem to think in dollars and cents, and not so much about the impact on their neighbors.

Some of the weirdest conversations I've had over the last year were with people who took Steve Lucente's lack of interest in maintaining his many properties along 366 to be a sign of his wisdom and care for the neighborhood. He's going to replace them with something better, they say, so why bother? The foundations are shot, they say, so why bother?

Apparently they don't see the contrast between claims that "you should love what I'm going to build [and maintain]" and the current state of his properties.

Apparently they don't hear the implicit threat in "let me build what I want to build or this will stay here as it is".

Apparently they haven't priced out the costs of foundation and drainage repair, which are certainly doable, even on an old house in a less than exclusive neighborhood.

I understand the dream of creative destruction, but applying it on a neighborhood scale suggests a deep disconnect with the neighbors.

Posted by simon at 6:31 AM Comment

Native Plants for Native Birds

I bought Native Plants for Native Birds: A Guide to Planting for Birds in and Around Ithaca, New York for Angelika's birthday last year, and we've been reading it happily and repeatedly ever since. It's a collection of articles by Joel Baines from the Cayuga Bird Club newsletter, supplemented with photos by David Ruppert and a foreword by Dryden resident Steve Kress.

It's not your average collection of articles, though. Each piece looks at a native plant, or family of native plants, how it fits into the landscape, and what it does for birds. I've found that gardening information is painfully region-specific, especially when it comes to interactions among plants, animals, and soil, and finding something this local is frankly amazing. I suspect that someone in a similar region might also find it useful, but the local references make it a lot easier to see how the plants work and even find some of them for a look.

It starts with perennials and grasses, moves through vines and groundcovers, shrubs, small trees, and finally large trees, with a brief section on the invasives. You could use it reasonably well as an identification guide as well as a planting guide - it's certainly helped me figure out some of the invasives. Summary tables at the end of each section list species by light and water requirements, and indicate deer resistance as well.

As a collection of articles, it doesn't set out to be a complete guide to every native plant you might conceivably find. For that, something like Native Plants of the Northeast is probably a better idea. To see more of how these plants sustain birds and why they matter, you might also explore Bringing Nature Home, and to get a sense of what in New York State is having a hard time surviving, there's also the Landowner's Guide to State-Protected Plants of Forest in New York State.

My biggest "finds" in the book? Northern spicebush, which feeds birds while keeping deer less enthusiastic, and mapleleaf viburnum as a plant that can deal with dry shade.

I suspect everyone will find something here. Whether you're pondering landscaping and ecosystems on a large scale or a tiny one, consulting this book should help you create a more exciting Dryden for everyone.

Posted by simon at 7:10 AM Comment

The Ups & Downs of a Rural Line

I've already posted an 1885 train schedule and 1895 hamlet populations from David Marcham's The Ups & Downs of a Rural Line: Elmira, Cortland & Northern RR - 1867 to 1967 and On, but it's worth pausing a moment to look beyond those fragments.

The EC&N connected Elmira to Cortland to Canastota to Camden before getting absorbed into the Lehigh Valley railroad, where it was a branch line of the Auburn Division, chronicled in Herbert Trice's The Gangly Country Cousin. Marcham gives the EC&N line specifically more attention than Trice could in his broader work, and the result is delightful.

There's no specific focus on the Dryden area, though the line ran through Besemer to East Ithaca and then northeast through Varna, Etna, Freeville, and McLean on its way to Cortland. Given the depth of coverage, though, there's plenty of material even for a severely Dryden-centric reader like myself. (I know the area south of here, going toward Elmira, much better than the areas north of Cortland, so had something of a natural bias toward the parts of the book covering the southern end of the line.)

Marcham's prose is excellent, and he tells compelling stories. He's very comfortable pointing to prior work, including Trice's book and Elsie Gutchess' From Richford Rails to Freeville Stationmaster: Ken Rice Remembers. I really like his breakdowns of the maps, showing details about sidings, mileage, and towers, and not just the usual guide maps. I'll be using them to track down some lost locations this year, like a siding at "Ludwigs" between Varna and Etna.

There are plenty of pictures of trains, stations, and the people working them, along with stories of wrecks, near disasters (runaway circus train!), snow, and other adventures. Detailed station lists and timetables (even timetable graphs!) are great, and the bibliography and engine rosters are helpful as well.

Marcham's experience working for the Lehigh Valley, though only occasionally on this line, is extremely helpful. He manages to balance the voices of workers with the general business history of the lines, though both of those are fairly sad through the second half of the book as the line declines. He also does a great job navigating the tangled lines of corporate railroad scheming in the late 1800s.

If you have any interest in local railroads at all, I strongly recommend reading this excellent book.

Posted by simon at 7:35 AM Comment

Not quite natural plans for the new land

We bought 5.46 acres of land behind our house and neighbors' houses last month, and are starting to work out what to do with it. As I noted before, there are clauses preventing building houses on it and hydrofracking it - both of which are fine because we're planning on keeping it fairly natural.

Not completely natural, at least not in the sense of leaving it alone. While we still have to do a census of the trees on the property, we already know that we don't like a lot of the undergrowth on its northern edge. The honeysuckle, Japanese barberry, multiflora rose, and privet are all invasives (and I have no qualms about using that term about these plants) that don't provide much to the ecosystem, and I'll be applying my honeysuckle popper a lot to the honeysuckle in particular.

Popping the honeysuckle, though, means putting something in its place. Otherwise, we'll likely just get something else we don't want. Honeysuckle in particular has done well because it doesn't mind shade and is pretty much deer-proof, so replacing it will be hard.

We have a few plans for that. The general idea is that when we plant anything up there, it has to be either useful or native - in which case it's likely useful to the ecosystem, if not immediately to us. In the shaded edge of the forest, that's going to mean things like currants and gooseberries (useful to us) and northern spicebush and assorted viburnums (useful to birds and insects), along with a variety of things like ramps (which are both native and tasty and like to grow on hillsides in damp areas).

We're also going to set up a 'nursery' area, a space that's not just for propagating new plants but also protected from deer. There are a few issues with deer fencing (including some with the Town's zoning) that I need to sort out, but in general the idea is to create a sheltered population that might serve as a seed area to allow birds to spread the native plants in particular.

Deer are going to be a large problem, as they make it hard to get new plants started. Our early surveys before the snow covered everything suggested that the deer have already demolished much of what should have been up there otherwise - but we've also had less deer pressure on our plants at the house than we'd had in prior years. I'm not sure if they demolished the food sources and moved on, are facing pressure from coyotes, or are just waiting for me to plant more tasty treats so they can call their cousins in Cayuga Heights to come over for dinner.

Hunting is going to be an important part of controlling deer, though we have a lot to learn about how that works and how much impact it can really have.

The land borders Saunders Greenhouse to the east, which is up for sale with a listing that notes:

Hillside wooded area ideal to develop housing. Zoning call for up to 135 units, but will be affected by grade issue.

I suspect we'll be more comfortable working on that edge when it becomes more clear what's happening with that property.

To the west is the Parke-Dabes Natural Area, which the Town took over from the Finger Lakes Land Trust in 2007. It was logged sometime before that, and as the trust's Summer 2007 newsletter reported:

the Dabes woods are a mixed hardwood forest that makes up a portion of the Mount Pleasant view from State Route 13 near the Tompkins County airport. Although it bordered land protected through a conservation easement held by the Land Trust, careful evaluation of the Parke-Dabes site itself showed that the property was more suited to recreational parkland where recent logging had left a series of roads that could serve as a foundation for walking paths and hiking trails.

It's pretty similar to the land we purchased, though obviously it's much larger - about ten times larger. The Town seems to be actively seeking better access to the land, so I think there will be more people coming through there as well.

To the south are the Madsens, who seem intent on keeping their property about as it is, and to the north are our neighbors' houses along 366. We hope not to disturb them much at all even as we change the mix of plants.

I wrote about Native Plants for Native Birds this morning, and that's one of the key books we're using to figure out what to do, along with the others I mentioned in that review, Bringing Nature Home and Landowner's Guide to State-Protected Plants of Forest in New York State. We'll also be relying heavily on Edible Forest Gardens, which has an amazing plant inventory in its appendices, and Making the Most of Shade, though it's aimed more at ornamental gardens.

Fortunately, we have a native plant-centered nursery right in Dryden - at The Plantsmen.

We'll be starting on the edge. Figuring out what, if anything, to change in the deeper woods, where the leaf canopy is pretty complete, will come later.

More to come, as we figure out what's up there and start making more detailed plans and plantings!

Posted by simon at 2:00 PM Comment

January 30, 2011

Zoning disputes echoing in the quiet...

I had some good response to my previous fictional forecast of what might happen with zoning, and think it's worth publishing a few more of these. This one seems to fit a quiet Sunday morning very well.

Part of the problem of discussing zoning is that it's a speculative project, and everyone has their own take on their own property and the future of the community. Fiction, oddly, can make those conversations more concrete, bringing some of those unspoken assumptions out and exploring various possibilities just enough to make the zoning more lively than a legal document.


The 2013 battle over zoning was a fight to remember, with four different candidates for supervisor offering very different visions of the direction the Town of Dryden should take. The echoes of that battle resounded over the hills and valleys of Dryden for a long time to come...

because there wasn't very much other noise. Even in 2015, the number of building permits for new construction had fallen to ten, and that was a high for the rest of the decade. The 2020 census reported that the Town had only thirty new residents, mocking the projections thrown around by all sides in 2013.

By 2015, it was clear that the economic recovery, at least in the United States, was going to be permanently jobless. Good years meant that unemployment was stable, not growing. Tompkins County, as usual, did better than the rest of the state and the nation because its colleges remained stabilizers, but even they didn't expand. New startups from Cornell continued to emerge, but rarely got beyond the Airport Technology Park before they moved elsewhere, lured by investors competing to bring business to their area.

Only one new apartment complex - Greenhouse Apartments, near the intersection of 13 and 366 - was built, and then only the first phase of thirty units. Although the county continued to call for denser nodes, most construction activity in the villages and hamlets focused on historic renovation, at a very slow pace. A bright spot was traffic, which smoothed out as gas prices climbed and the TCAT system added routes and runs to cover about half of Dryden driving needs.

The Town's Planning and Zoning Department shrank over time to two employees by 2027. There were periodic calls to revise (or abolish) the zoning to stimulate new growth, but mostly they fell on deaf ears: Dryden residents were doing what they could with what was here.

If you have stories you'd like to tell (or see me tell), let me know, in email or in comments.

Posted by simon at 7:44 AM Comment

January 31, 2011

Overwhelming demand

This fictional scenario is very different from yesterday's quiet scenario; it's about as far as I can easily imagine development going in twenty years, multiplying the town's population by about 2.5 by 2030. It's based on a highly optimistic Upstate 2050 story, but this focuses more on the effects of that optimism on Dryden.


When Cornell University expanded the Wilson Synchrotron to build the Energy Recovery Linac (ERL), they hoped for a solid research platform and significant but not dramatic growth. Instead, thanks to a 2013 accident, Dr. Waclaw Czerwinski developed cheap, safe, and affordable fusion power, and Cornell's work in the field exploded. The Synchrotron facilities themselves continued to expand under new areas of the Towns of Ithaca and Dryden, and related businesses quickly filled downtown Ithaca, the Airport Technology Park, and a large area along Route 13 and Hanshaw Road in Dryden.

By 2022, developers were complaining that the Town of Dryden hadn't allowed anywhere near as much development as they needed, and that Cornell's insistence on keeping certain fields for research was limiting obvious development possibilities, particularly the 46-acre field at the corner of Game Farm Road and Route 366 and the Reynolds Game Farm itself. The core of the hamlet of Lucente (formerly Varna) had exploded from around 679 people in 2000 to 2700 in 2020, as most of the existing housing was torn down and replaced with apartment complexes. Route 366 and Turkey Hill Roads were seeing similar explosions in growth, as single-family housing was replaced with denser units. Scattered growth further east in Dryden piled ever more traffic on to Routes 13 and 366, despite efforts by the TCAT bus system to expand.

At a contentious Town Board meeting held at the Lucente Community Center, developers insisted that the only way to address the growing traffic problems was to allow denser housing - supported both through zoning changes and through infrastructure improvements the developers were willing to pay for. Their initial map, showing proposed water and sewer districts going about two miles into the western edge of Dryden from Neimi Road South, provoked fury, but new pro-development residents proved the key voters. An election settled the issue by a 52-48 margin, and developer purchases of land allowed them to win the neighborhood infrastructure votes everywhere except for Ellis Hollow and Mount Pleasant, the two sites they'd expressed the least interest in.

By the 2030 census, Dryden's population reached 37,421, with no signs of slowing down. Denser housing was moving toward Etna and Freeville rapidly, unimpeded by the hilly terrain further south or the hydrofracking traffic further east.

Other zoning fiction here:

If you have stories you'd like to tell (or see me tell), let me know, in email or in comments.

Posted by simon at 8:21 AM Comment